A “HEDGEROW chaplain” has been commissioned to minister to people who discovered a love of walking during the pandemic.
Thought to be the first in the country, Steven Wort, a lay worship leader, has been commissioned as a chaplain for the hedgerows and lanes of the Milverton Benefice, in Somerset.
“A lot of people have been walking the parks, fields, and lanes during Covid, and discovered a love of walking,” he said. “Some are still anxious about going back into church buildings; so we thought of creating a walking ministry, because the open air is God’s greatest church. Walking and talking helps to rebalance the soul after Covid.”
A keen walker and runner himself, he creates different routes as “mini pilgrimages” each week, and leaves them in churches for people to try out. He also offers a monthly guided walk. Each walk is about three miles long, and he has been joined by younger people trying out “church” for the first time, as well as some of those who are reluctant to return to a church building for traditional services.
He said: “Once upon a time, probably the 17th or 18th century, there used to be hedgerow pastors, and their function was to go from church to church — they weren’t associated with any particular church. Their services were looked on as another service the church could offer. Where there wasn’t a building, they would preach and offer a service outside.”
On Mr Wort’s walks, people are encouraged to talk; but there are also moments of silence, usually when looking at a beautiful view, he says. He starts and ends each walk with a prayer, but there is no other liturgy.
“We take in the things around us. We stop by a five-bar gate, have a look at the world around us — the view from the gate, the sheep in the distance, the water, perhaps — and maybe put our hands together and say to God, ‘Wow! Thank you so much. This is absolutely wonderful.’
“The pleasure and spirit that you can get from that, coupled with what we’ve been going through over this last year, can actually recharge your body, can recharge your soul, can recharge your spirit, and you can start to go down that road of a new spirituality.”
For some, the walks are a way to gain confidence about going out again. “Some are frightened of going out again, and a walk or pilgrimage is a way of strengthening ourselves, of bringing back positivity and strength, and feeling confident and happy again.”